Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union

By Stanley Harrold | Go to book overview

chapter one
Benevolence

The year 1831 was a momentous one in the history of the United States. In Boston William Lloyd Garrison initiated the movement for the immediate abolition of slavery and began a period of increasing northern hostility to the slave labor system of the South. In Southampton County, Virginia a slave preacher named Nat Turner launched a bloody revolt that convinced southern whites that slavery must be defended at all costs. But neither of these events had yet occurred when early in the same year Gamaliel Bailey, Jr. made his first visit to a slave state to begin a career in journalism that years later would make him the most successful and in some respects the most influential antislavery newspaper editor in the country. At age twenty-three he was just under average height and quite thin, with delicate features, brown eyes, and dark hair. Neither the broad forehead nor the beard, which in later years gave him a "marked countenance" were yet evident, and he was as he appeared to be, a pleasant, conventional young man with a philosophical turn of mind and an intense curiosity about the world and its people. Enthusiastically religious, deeply patriotic, mildly opposed to slavery, and emphatically ambitious, he shared the values and expectations of many other Americans during the Age of Andrew Jackson. Westward expansion, the steam engine, white manhood suffrage, religious revivalism, and social reform all promised rapid change in American society, and young Bailey optimistically embraced them as the building blocks of a glorious future for the United States and himself.1

He came from a family of seamen on his father's side and physicians on his mother's. His paternal grandfather, Gamaliel Bayley, was a ship's captain in the third generation of a large and prosperous family of mariners that had lived in the eastern Long Island town of Southold since the middle of the

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